A spatter of rain

It cooled for a while this evening, then an unsatisfying spatter of rain, no more than a few specks here and there, then back to how it was.

The satellite photos above, from NASA, show England and Wales at the start of May, and a few days ago.

It’s been hot and dry for that entire period. The driest early summer since records began, but hot with it too. Hot in a way that’s not right. 

There are certain protocols to the weather in these islands, and we grow up with those protocols in our bones. We indulge the rain and leaden skies because we know they won’t last. We’re always unprepared for snow, but the snow won’t last either, so why bother organizing defences. And we’re always surprised by sunny days, the better to seize on them with  bonhomie and glee.

Heatwaves are not unknown – there is a place in the protocols for such treats.  A heatwave may last a long weekend, or longer, up to two or three weeks in one of those legendary summers we all recall and still speak of. But not like this one. This one had outstayed its welcome by mid-May.

Where’s the fun in gabbing about the weather – our famous national pastime – when its presiding spirit is no longer playing along?

We had a disproportionately heavy and bitterly cold dump of Siberian snow across the land one weird weekend in March, which ironically stripped the supermarkets of chilled meat and fish and dairy products for up to three weeks. (A surprising sign of how unresilient our food supply chain is.) And now this.

So, these days, my heart sinks a little every morning when I wake up and see today’s sky will be the same as yesterday’s, and the day before’s. For a while I was pleading, wishing in my mind for rain. I miss it. The playing fields and roadside verges converted to baked earth and straw appear to me like something from an alien land. But rain will come eventually, the land will green again. No-one is going to die for lack of a mouthful of clean water on this island, not this year. Maybe there’ll be lasting damage to agriculture. I don’t know. What I’m really wishing for is for this climate change thing not to be happening. But the weather is telling me it is not a bad dream. It is really happening.

In public, there’s an unspoken accord not to connect the “heatwave” with climate change. Even though this is exactly what the long-term forecasts have been saying would happen, for years now. Intensifying extremes. The arctic overheats, the jet stream gets disrupted and slowed, and air masses stagnate in place. Once-in-a-hundred-year weather events become once-in-twenty-year then once-in-five-year events. And like when steroid-pumped Roger McGwire and Barry Bonds were smashing the home-run records – what was going on was clear from the mounting tally of homers, even though no individual big hit could be pinned on the drugs.

So, that’s how it is here, this summer, on this patch of the northern hemisphere. How’s it where you are?

 

Against Complacency: the fierce voice of Patrick Noble

We don’t need more renewable energy to power how we live, but to change how we live so we don’t need that power.  –  Patrick Noble, https://convivialeconomy.com

There are some writers on the internet that get thousands of clicks and hundreds of comments every week.  Generally these writers work hard to build their online community of readers.   Their art is that of building a common language.

There are others who don’t have the knack or interest in building their readership.   I suspect they are the kind of artist that is fascinated by something on the horizon, something that is not readily visible, and even less readily conveyable.  Their art is that of illumination and discovery. Continue reading “Against Complacency: the fierce voice of Patrick Noble”

Biophilia: The Love of Life and the Living World

“Splendor awaits in minute proportions.”
― Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia

Here is Burlingame, CA,  which is the home of SFO and its attendant fleet of airport hotels, trucking companies, passenger shuttles, warehouses, security headquarters, and cargo forwarders.  Pairs of aircraft  roar over the water in five minute intervals as they approach the airport.  Cars roar by on the freeway that feeds into fabled San Francisco. Their reflections flash in the sleek black glass buildings that line the highway.

There is also, in Burlingame, an un-authorized footpath at the edge of the water – a wild space to wander  if one would escape the hotel grounds with their carefully arranged plantings.  The path follows the waterline above broken slags of concrete – remnants of a more manicured edging of the shore? – and between scraggly and indomitable tufts of wild fennel.   A man in a street sweeping vehicle is letting his pit-bull pup out to play at the edge of a parking lot and a field of orange California poppies and dry grasses.   Further on there is an abandoned development planted in rosemary and irises, concrete esplanades crumbling into the pale green water and an elaborate wrought-iron gateway to the empty space, a space in the process of being reclaimed by grasses and small trees.  Across the street is a construction site where machines are digging into the chalky soil for the foundation of another office building or hotel. 

Along the footpath there are  bunches of lavender wild-flowers.  Small wonders of the world, these throw-away riches of California!

 

 

 

Mo’olelo (stories) about the volcano

Pele, they say in the legends, was a traveler from the ancestral homelands of Kahiki who came to this island with her clan of brothers and sisters and settled in the area named Keauhou.  There was a war between the early settlers and Pele and her clan took refuge in a great cave.  The volcano erupted and the cave collapsed, sealing  the clan inside.  This is how she became identified with the volcano Kilauea.

In the old days those who came as visitors to the hostile, numinous lands of Pele had themselves tattoo-ed using a blue dye made from a kind of iris that grows only near the volcano.  Others brought the umbilical cords of their children, or of themselves, to place at the doorstep of the volcano.

Piko is the word for the belly button where the umbilical cord was attached.  It is also the word for a spiritual place of origin and power – a center of the universe. That earth is fire, that we are connected from birth to the molten core of our earth, and live always under peril but centered in the knowledge of that connection – this is what might be expressed in the tradition of presenting the umbilical cord to Pele.

It is treacherous to cross over the volcano these days, when Pele is awake and the road cracks and buckles.  It is not treacherous in the way it was for Chief Keoua’s army, that perished in a sudden rain of volcanic debris and molten glass two centuries ago, leaving their footprints behind in the hardened ash deposits. 

How many times have I passed over the volcano? As a child, bumping along on the narrow old road through the lava fields in the back seat of the family car, dreamily seeing fairy realms in the forested slopes above; as a teen venturing through with my cousins, telling ourselves ghost stories as the darkness closed around the beams of the headlights; as a young mother hurrying home through the lava desert with my baby, singing to keep her quiet.

The more likely danger even now is falling asleep at the wheel on the curving road over the volcano and running into the unforgiving basalt fields on either side. That is how people lose their lives now.  It is a long drive in the dark; do they begin to dream of ghostly shapes – of a white dog, of an old woman, of a young woman with fiery eyes?  These are the forms that Pele is said to take when she appears to travelers.

Big questions

Dad, what’s the purpose of life?

It was asked with the same kind of uncomplicated curiosity as when he says to me: what’s the fastest anyone’s ever been on a skateboard? or (this morning on the way to school, out of the blue): Dad, can a town square be a circle?

He and his tribe of nine-year-olds devote their days to exuberance, with breaks for food and drink, preferably sugared. In their waking hours they seem to have a ten-to-one ratio between good times and  bad. The bad times are felt intensely, but pass like an ocean squall.

So I responded in the spirit of the enquirer: the purpose of life is to have fun…and (thinking for a moment) to be good to others. That last bit spoken from the pulpit of the responsible parent. Blind hedonism’s no good if it hurts others, or yourself. And anyway goodness is its own reward.

But it did get me thinking, this question, and I realised how hard it is to answer without resort to values that are themselves in question. After all, how much of what I’ve been conditioned to accept, and to believe is right, can I trust? How much of it should be viewed as suspect, to the degree that it enables our kind’s shameful hegemony over the natural world? Any “purpose” to life that furthers that hegemony, surely isn’t worthy of the claim.

The starting point has to be that all of it is suspect until proved otherwise.

Being good citizens, accumulating wealth, supporting charity, pursuing happiness, acquiring wisdom, keeping our families safe, providing them with food and shelter, procreating (the purpose of life is to, er, create more life), solving world problems, extending the boundaries of knowledge, loving and being loved, giving ourselves to God and country,  striving for Heaven or the next life (the purpose of life is to not be alive?), saving lives, taking lives…. all suspect. All compromised by association with the course we’re on.

How then to pick out values we can trust not to drive us further down the trail of self-destruction?

Well, we could do worse than start by looking at the nine-year-olds, a friendly tribe not yet wholly inducted into the ways of civilization.

The gift for joy they retain from when they were even younger.  Their endless curiosity. Their ready appreciation of what is and isn’t fair. Their love of kindness in others and desire to be kind in return. Their ability to conjure a game from thin air, the more barmy and hilarious the better. Their willingness to do almost anything in return for an ice cream. And the way they still infuse much of the world around them, animate or inanimate, with a spirit and life-force that is as buoyant and bright as their own.

A few days after that question about the purpose of life I realised that I’d missed the opportunity to ask him back, so I did.

He looked out the window of the train for a few seconds and pondered, then said: maybe there isn’t a purpose – life is just something that happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farewell the tidepools of Kapoho

a heavy heart as the lava flows toward Kapoho,
of all the special places on Hawai’i a jewel.
the tidepools, shallow ponds separated by
a lacy network of low coral and lava walkways,
where the people can go out a half mile into the ocean
and see the little fishes, a calm protected reef,
the seas held just outside, a place where the little
ones come right up and nibble on your fingers

while the lava flow is not quite there yet
it continues on its course

The Struggle

I shot Bunny the calf this morning. After feeding her bottles of milk twice daily for nearly four months.  Euthanized her – to be more precise and perhaps less honest about something that it took me days to steel myself to do.  She had broken a leg somehow and was wracked by arthritis in the other three.  She could no longer get up without my help. I found the spot on her forehead that would kill her instantly and pulled the trigger. (I never get used to the silence inside the gunshot when your ears ring and the body falls to the ground, and it seems that time stops.  It’s eerie and you want to cry and you are for a little while unclean in every way, a monster to all that look at you.)   Continue reading “The Struggle”

God Breaks In

I’m not sure why but today’s reflection posted by Richard Rohr seemed like something worth sharing.

“We are told that Jesus hung out with publicans, tax collectors, and sinners. Perhaps during these sessions of music, laughter, and food fellowship, there were also . . . moments when the love of God and mutual care and concern became the focus of their time together. Contemplation is not confined to designated and institutional sacred spaces. God breaks into nightclubs and Billie Holiday’s sultry torch songs; God tap dances with Bill Robinson and Savion Glover. And when Coltrane blew his horn, the angels paused to consider.

Some sacred spaces bear none of the expected characteristics. The fact that we prefer stained glass windows, pomp and circumstance . . . has nothing to do with the sacred. It may seem as if the mysteries of divine-human reunion erupt in our lives when, in fact, the otherness of spiritual abiding is integral to human interiority. On occasion, we turn our attention to this abiding presence and are startled. But it was always there.”

Perhaps it was the use of the word erupt that took my mind to the people of Hawaii, but I started to think about how even amidst the disasters of life…God breaks in…another way of saying that the sacred is always there.  My heart goes out to all those Hawaiians faced with recent volcanic eruptions and perhaps more to come.  I’m not trying to make light of the situation.    Living in the middle of the North American plate, I seldom feel the earth shake.  The only roar I hear is the thunderstorm and maybe once in a lifetime, a tornado.  The power of the earth experienced as an earth quake, volcano, or tsunami is almost beyond my imagining.  I’m beginning to understand why people of the Hawaiian Islands made sacrifices to appease the God’s when the volcanoes erupted.

The photo of the plants covered with lava in Michelle’s last post seemed poignant to me somehow.   It reminded me that nature is tenacious.  No matter what events surround us; we pick up the pieces and move on.  Perhaps it’s harder to see the other side, when dark smoke fills our view.  But eventually the lava turns to soil and plants will thrive in its mineral richness.  Perhaps this is why prayers and sacrifices are given, to remind us that the sacred is still there.  To hope that we can find the courage and strength to face loss and adversity.

My prayers to everyone in Hawaii for their safety and speedy recovery.

Metamorphic: for all the Wild Ones

For we cannot think like Indians; at most, we can think with them.  – Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Cannibal Metaphysics

As far back as I am able to think, to remember, which is a kind of thinking, there are memories of places, of plants and animals, of a kind of light and air, the smell of water on leaves, root and dirt, the strange sight of lava flows reaching the sea, the band of white coral touching blue ocean, of roads leading through orchards, of flowers against the sky, of moss-covered rocks and river pebbles.

I have these myths.  These are my myths.  Continue reading “Metamorphic: for all the Wild Ones”